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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 19:59 GMT
Holyfield makes history
Concluding a series looking at boxing duels that dominated a decade, BBC Sport Online's Sanjeev Shetty revisits the '90s and Mike Tyson versus Evander Holyfield.

By the time Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson finally did battle for the world title in November 1996, the boxing landscape had undergone a huge upheaval.

The 1990s saw the introduction of pay-per-view television, a facility which made millions for fighters and promoters, but hit the casual boxing fan in the pocket.

In previous years, followers of the sweet science had subscribed to satellite and cable channels to watch the top bouts. Now they had to pay for individual fights.

Another difference was the proliferation of governing bodies - the WBO, WBF, WBU, IBC, IBO and practically any combination of three letters meant that boxing had about 100 world champions.


You got nothing coming man - I'm going to enjoy this fight
Tyson before the first fight

The dominant champions of the '90s were in the lower weight classes - Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Ricardo Lopez, Prince Naseem Hamed and Roy Jones were all big names.

But the heavyweight division was a mess - Tyson lost his undisputed title in February 1990 to James 'Buster' Douglas and inevitably by 1993, there was more than one man calling himself world champion.

Tyson's incarceration between 1992 and 1995 did not help matters - many regarded him as the uncrowned champion.

As it was, when he was released, just four fights were required to make him world champion again.

His first engagement with Holyfield was regarded as a formality, with Lennox Lewis or Michael Moorer lined up for Tyson's next outing.

The bizarre history between Holyfield and Tyson made the fight potentially very interesting.

Mitch Halpern stops the first Holyfield-Tyson fight in Holyfield's favour
Boxing's big upset - Tyson is beaten in the first fight
The pair were supposed to have met in 1990 and 1991, but on both occasions, the bout was postponed.

Holyfield and Tyson had known each other as amateurs and stories conflicted about the nature of the relationship then.

One view was that the pair were friendly rivals, while another story told of how Holyfield refused to let the bully Tyson get his way in and out of the ring.

None of that evidence seemed to make a difference in the build-up to the fight in 1996 - Holyfield was 34 and seemingly washed up, having lost three of his last seven fights.

Tyson had looked awesome in knocking out Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon, as well as promising to destroy Holyfield, a man he considered not in his league.

There were also health worries about Holyfield, who had been wrongly diagnosed with a heart condition in 1994 when losing to Michael Moorer.

Intensity

Out of nearly 50 boxing writers polled, only Ron Borges of the Boston Globe thought that the challenger could upset the odds. Other writers picked Tyson by early knockout.

The fight, held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, produced a superb atmosphere and an intensity which has not been found in heavyweight title fights since.

After Holyfield survived the first round, it became obvious very quickly that he had the beating of Tyson.

By the end of the sixth, the champion was cut, discouraged and on the floor, courtesy of a Holyfield left hook.


Everybody knew that I was washed up, but with God, I'm not washed up
Evander Holyfield after the first fight

Five rounds later, referee Mitch Halpern stopped the fight with Tyson defenceless and taking punishment in the corner of the ring from a merciless Holyfield.

The public demanded a rematch, believing that lightning could not strike twice.

No-one, though, could have predicted the outcome of the second fight.

Held at the same venue, the fight began in a similar fashion to the first, with Tyson absorbing jabs and power-punches from a confident Holyfield.

In the second round, a cut opened above Tyson's right eye, the result of a clash of heads. Innocuous as it seemed, this changed the complexion of the fight.


More and more, I'm starting to believe Mike Tyson is a very confused individual
TV analyst Dr Ferdie Pacheco

At the start of the third round, a clearly angry Tyson was ready to fight without his gumshield, before cornerman Richie Giachetti called his fighter back.

Midway through what was a much better round for Tyson, both fighters got into a clinch, in which the challenger bit a chunk out of Holyfield's right ear and spat it onto the floor.

A distressed Holyfield jumped up and down and gestured to referee Mills Lane what had happened.

Closer examination revealed blood pouring from the champion's ear, while Tyson's mouthpiece was on the floor.

Evander Holyfield's ear after it was bitten by Mike Tyson
The bite mark felt round the world
When Tyson repeated the infringement seconds later, the fight was over and Holyfield was handed a win by disqualification.

Tyson lost all control, exploding into a rage in the ring, while spectators roared their disapproval for Tyson's actions.

To no one's surprise, Tyson was suspended from boxing for a year and to this day is still struggling to regain his world title.

Holyfield's dignified response to his opponent's actions cemented his standing as a national hero.

And boxing did what it always does in a crisis - stay quiet, wait until the storm passes and then carry on as if nothing bad had happened.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
'Let's do it again'
Tyson and Holyfield pay respects after fight one
Why I had to stop the fight
Mills Lane talks about the Tyson biting incident
Links to more Boxing stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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